If there is one thing that all home consoles strived for back in the 80s it was to have that arcade feel. They promised an arcade experience in the comfort of your own home but while the games may have been similar (they were often poorer relations given the software limitations) the one thing that wasn’t arcade-y was the controller. Control pads were the order of the day for the home market while in the arcades it was the eternally loved joystick that provided that vital interface to the world of video games.
Atari knew this and their consoles ranging through the numbers from the legendary 2600 to the abysmal 5200 and on to the 7800 all had joystick controllers (although the 7800 did feature a controller as an alternative). Being a major player in the arcade market Sega caught on and produced their own joystick alternatives for their home consoles. For the Sega Master System that meant the Control Stick.
This swanky little peripheral was released in 1987 and was intended to enhance the arcade experience. In all honesty it failed and to retro gamers such as myself it is more of a novelty these days rather than a sought after item. I will be honest; the only reason I ended up getting hold of one was because the D-pad on one of my two Master System controllers had finally given up the ghost and no longer worked. Since I often play two player games (and needing a back-up in case the other one went) I needed to source a replacement. While skimming through Amazon I stumbled across a Control Stick, in the original box, for the grand total of £6 while a replacement controller was in the region of £17. Being the cheapskate that I am I decided to go for the Control Stick.
It took about a week to arrive. The box looked like it had been through both World Wars but fortunately it had served its purpose to protect the Control Stick inside. Apart from some flaking of the sticker in the top right corner the Control Stick was immaculate. I took it out of the box and plugged it in to see what I had. The first question that came to mind was why Sega decided to reverse the controls by having the directional stick on the right and the action buttons on the left. It makes no sense to me since nearly every other arcade stick and controller in the world has the directional control on the left. Despite this I found that it didn’t take me long to get used to it and as I got in to a game of Sonic The Hedgehog I stopped noticing that they were opposite to what I was used to.
A much more irritating problem for me is it’s size. Unlike many other arcade sticks which are big enough to place on your lap this is relatively small being about 1 1/2 times the size of a regular controller. When I tried resting it on my lap to play it was extremely uncomfortable keeping my legs together to provide it with a base. This was largely remedied by placing a book underneath it and the rubber grips did keep it relatively stable despite its lightness. I did try placing it on the floor and playing it that way but after a few minutes my back was in agony so I returned to having it back up on my lap with a book underneath it.
Just for giggles I plugged it in to my Sega Mega Drive to see if it would work. At first it didn’t but after setting up Sonic 1 using the standard controller I plugged it in again and began playing. The mapping of the stick means that Button 1 paused the game but Button 2 worked and I began happily playing Sonic on the Mega Drive. Any other type of game won’t work however because if you include the fact that one button is the START button it only leaves one action button where most Mega Drive games will use all three of the controller’s buttons.
I won’t say I am unhappy with it. Far from it in fact. As I am such a Sega Master System enthusiast it makes an interesting addition to my collection. Sega could have certainly done a better job designing it but it is far from unplayable and for games like Putt & Putter which I love it is every bit as useful as the pad if not more useful.
For another look at the Control Stick check out Classic Game Room’s review.